Review: At War With War

Push Pin Studios' design legend Seymour Chwast's book takes aim at war with bold illustration.

Our Verdict

In smallish, unassuming paperback form, the volume is a refreshing riposte to weighty, academic, frequently daunting tomes on war.

For

  • Lots of information packed in
  • Gorgeously emotive illustrations
  • Information presented in bitesize chunks

Against

  • Relatively small book

Why you can trust Creative Bloq Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

“The power of cartoons and caricatures shouldn’t be underestimated,” states writer Victor Navasky in his no-nonsense introduction to At War With War (opens in new tab), Seymour Chwast’s comprehensive illustrated timeline of 5,000 years of war.

It’s a supremely fitting statement for this little yellow tome, which uses the power of stripped-back visual narration to demonstrate the abhorrence of killing and lament mankind’s historical, current, and likely future propensity for large-scale organised killing. 

Chwast’s book runs with the subtitle “5,000 years of conquests, invasions, and terrorist attacks, an illustrated timeline,” and that’s pretty much exactly what it is. The designer has long used his graphics as a tool to promote peace and challenge the 'necessity' of war, and this is perhaps his most comprehensive distillation of that yet. 

Seymour Chwast has long used his art to make political comments

Seymour Chwast has long used his art to make political comments

For a rather wee volume, a lot is packed in: alongside Chwast’s gorgeously emotive woodcut-like illustrations and the chronological timeline, At War With War presents written passages discussing war (and peace) including 5th century BC Chinese military treatise The Art of War (opens in new tab) by Sun Tzu; 1521’s The Complaint of Peace (opens in new tab) by Desiderius Erasmus; and The State (opens in new tab), an essay on the  link between state and war, by Randolph Bourne.

At War With War was initially launched as a Kickstarter last year, which proved the appetite for a considered visual exploration of war and terror (and, of course, another book by Chwast) when it raised well over its target – 784 backers pledged a whopping $112,754 to help realise the project. The video about the book that sat on the Kickstarter page is below.

“Seymour’s desire was to present his reaction to war in its purest form…” writes Steven Heller, who edited the book. “To set aside his interest in colour and mixed media and use what would allow him to focus on the idea alone: marker on paper; just black and white. 

"His technique serves the content and the intention – to viscerally connect with the audience and bring front and centre the horror and waste that is war.”

The illustrations are completed in marker pen, to put the focus on the challenging content

The illustrations are completed in marker pen, to put the focus on the challenging content

In smallish, unassuming paperback form, the volume is a refreshing riposte to weighty, academic, frequently daunting tomes on war. Chwast presents atrocities in poignant, visual, bitesize chunks but makes them no more easily digestible. 

As At War With War points out, there is “no happy ending to this book."

Buy At War With War here (opens in new tab)

Related articles:

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

The Verdict
9

out of 10

Review: At War With War

In smallish, unassuming paperback form, the volume is a refreshing riposte to weighty, academic, frequently daunting tomes on war.

Emily Gosling is a freelance art and design journalist currently writing for titles including Creative Review, Eye on Design, Creative Boom and People of Print. She’s previously worked at Elephant magazine, It’s Nice That and Design Week, and was editor of Type Notes magazine. Her book Creative Minds Don’t Think Alike was published by Ilex Press in 2018, and she also plays bass as one-quarter of the eight-titted beast, Superstation Twatville.